Why Helsinki Restaurant Day is the Greatest Street Food Party

Four times a year, Restaurant Day turns Helsinki into a gastronomic paradise. 

Established in 2011, Helsinki Restaurant Day allows anyone to set up their own restaurant for a day. What began as a somewhat subversive way to circumvent Helsinki's strict regulations has turned into a city-wide culinary celebration. Streets and parks are packed with people selling everything from traditional cinnamon buns and cupcakes to Mongolian steamed buns and blinis. The budding entrepreneurs include rambunctious young children and white-haired grandparents; first-timers with just a few platters of food and full-scale, pop-up restaurants. The entire city seems to come out for this amazing smorgasbord-meets-block-party.

The sheer variety of options and budget-friendly prices make Restaurant Day the perfect opportunity to try some traditional Finnish foods like smoked salmon, fried muikku (lakefish), or reindeer. The cuisine is also tremendously more diverse than Helsinki's day-to-day restaurant scene. Brazilian BBQ, Chinese, Indian, Korean, Mexican, Moldovan, Nepalese, Russian, Thai - the list is endless! 

The holiday also has a fantastic communal spirit. Finns aren't necessarily the most outgoing of people, but the temporary restauranteurs are usually excited to tell you more about what they're selling or to strike up a conversation. You couldn't ask for a better way to mingle and meet locals. 

Good To Know

  • Get there early. Some restaurants sell out in a few hours.
  • Esplanadi is always the place to go for an insane amount of restaurants per square foot. Just show up and eat your way down the street. 
  • If you're looking for something specific or want to venture out beyond Esplanadi, use this map to plot your course.
  • Bring cash. Most places won't take credit cards. 
  • Most importantly, skip breakfast and come hungry! You'll regret it if you don't. 

For more info, including the date of the next Restaurant Day, visit the official Restaurant Day site

Have you been to Helsinki Restaurant Day? Does your city have a fantastic street food event?